Officials say the mandate is necessary to increase the low vaccination rate, 72% of the 8.9 people who live in Austria, and to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Police will start checking people's vaccination status during routine checks beginning in March. The mandate is supposed to remain in place until the end of January 2024. The measure has led to regular large-scale demonstrations in Vienna, some of which have drawn upwards of 40,000 protesters.
Austria's parliament voted Thursday to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults from Feb. 1, the first of its kind in Europe, with maximum potential fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,000) for people who don't comply after a series of reminders.
Lawmakers voted 137 to 33 in favor of the measure, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over. Exemptions are made for pregnant women, people who for medical reasons can't be vaccinated, or who have recovered from the coronavirus in the previous six months.
Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low in the small Alpine country. They say it will ensure that Austria's hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking in parliament Thursday afternoon, called the measure a "big, and, for the first time, also lasting step" in Austria's fight against the pandemic.